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November 15, 2010

Review: Cool It — Made Me Think, Twice

Category: Climate Change,Green Reviews – Tom Harrison – 9:10 pm

Cool It

Think

I saw the movie Cool It based on the book of the same name, by Bjørn Lomborg. You should either read the book or see the movie.

And then you should think a little. Actually, think a lot, for this movie is very clever, I think.

The movie is well-crafted, if not as slickly produced as movies such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. In particular, Cool It presents a different take on climate change than Inconvenient Truth. It is convincing — skipping between scenes of the youthful Lomburg in his Greenpeace days, to his canonical assertion, which is that to fight climate change, we’re spending our money the wrong way, and efforts to date have been largely ineffective and fantastically cost-ineffective.

But something did not seem to quite “add up” to me. That’s when I started thinking again.

Lomberg is pictured on his bike, or train, and in natural scenes, and even (a bit over the top, if you ask me) helping his Alzheimers-stricken Mom. His blond hair, blue eyes, commanding physique, nearly accent-less English, his professorship, and everything make you feel: this is a guy I can trust. I didn’t come away from Inconvenient Truth thinking my wife would think Al Gore was a hottie (and in his movie Gore was on a CO2-emitting plane!)

I spend a fair amount of my time reading, learning, assessing, and evaluating what I read about climate change and energy. I was genuinely impressed with the movie when I walked out, and it made me think about some of the ways we have approached the issue of and discuss climate change. The opening montage is a series of images drawn by school children depicting their views of climate change — in one case, I believe a boy used at least four “very”s to describe how hot the world would soon become. My own kids, of similar ages are getting what I might describe as “propaganda” about climate change in school — information culled to be exciting, dramatic, convincing and dire. It’s possible that Lomberg’s general assertions have validity.

“Cool It” presents a more moderate, less strident, calmer and alternative view of our global response (or perhaps non-response) to climate change. The movie presents a series of assertions about the ways climate change issues have been overblown by the media and other sources, including some jabs at the data presented in An Inconvenient Truth. Lomberg, who is Director of The Copenhagen Consensus, says his organization has done a lot of diligent and scholarly work looking at how we’re responding to climate change mainly from an economic perspective, using cost-benefit analysis. Based on the data they present, efforts like Kyoto, EU, US and others have been terribly ineffective and wasteful. The message is:

Global warming is real, it is caused by man-made CO2 emissions, and we need to do something about it. But we don’t need action that makes us feel good. We need action that actually does good.

And this is a very hard position to disagree with. I don’t.

However, the movie made me think. I strongly encourage you to watch it or read the book.

And then, I suggest you read this book.

After the first hundred or so pages of the second book, I began to have a different take on Lomberg’s position than I had after leaving the movie theater.

I’ll write more after I finish reading both.

Do watch or read “Cool It”, but please make sure to watch carefully, as I have begun to think there is a new kind of art that is really worth looking at carefully.

This is not the blather and bluster that we have heard from Glenn Beck and his ilk. “Cool It” is not a simple denial of facts that everyone agrees on. “Cool It” strongly advises large expenditures on renewable energy and other climate change mitigation or adaptive responses. But as I begin to delve into the data used to support the claims behind the larger policy recommendations, they appear to be frequently wrong and misleading. There’s a degree to which one can accept a particular view of a problem and understand why someone would choose to refer to one part of the finding — Lomberg is indeed looking at the problem from the standpoint of an economist, not a climate scientists.

However, it appears that the facts used to justify his claims are not just occasionally wrong or misleading, but instead systematically misleading. There’s another word for that: deceptive. The work is wrapped and presented as well-documented science, but it’s something else.

It’s too soon for me to be sure, but I believe Cool It is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” — a popular presentation leading people to see the world through a different lens … which would be fine, except many of the key facts used to make the assertions are just not right.

Watch the movie, read the book. And think. I believe we may have the next, and more slippery wave of denial wrapped in environmentalist clothing.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the tip on this movie. I have yet to read/see it, but will now seek it out.

    I can’t remember how I originally found your blog, but it’s been a good read. Thanks for sharing your personal environmental journey and for helping me to think more deeply about my own.

    Comment by Heidi — November 29, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  2. Hi Heidi —

    Thanks for your comment.

    I am now about 1/2 way through The Lomborg Deception, the book I linked above. It’s a lot of work because the author painstakingly documents claim after claim and shows how Lomborg’s use of footnotes, attribution and so on are shabby science at best, and intentionally deceptive, at worst.

    I have cross-checked a few of the more straightforward rebuttals, and it’s absolutely clear that Cool It uses misleading and out of context citations to validate his points, if not in all cases, in many, perhaps even most of the significant ones.

    I have to say that I am downright confused. I still think Lomberg has some valid points, but as I read more deeply, I am finding it difficult to understand why he has taken the path he did to make them. I really don’t think Lomberg is a tool of the anti-environmentalists (or, at least there’s little I can see). But even if he’s just sloppy, he could most certainly find more compelling proof for his cases.

    Sigh.

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — November 29, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

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